It is typical to associate high stress with negative outcomes – but according to new research, children who grow up in high-stress environments develop an entirely new set of skills to adapt to the world.

When children live in high-stress environments (such as ones that involve abuse, violence, or financial difficulties), they are at a higher risk for behavioral and learning deficits. But, these children also may possess traits such as “heightened vigilance, attention shifting, and empathetic accuracy”, which are accessed in more non-traditional ways of learning.

JeanMarie Bianchi, UA, psychology lecturer and co-author of the research states: “Once we are able to catalog the psychological advantages that are promoted by stressful early life conditions, we may be able to apply that to how we teach, from preschool through college, making learning more effective for individuals from different backgrounds.”

According to this research, stress doesn’t necessarily inhibit our ability to function properly, it just changes how we see and react to the world. Because this way of seeing the world isn’t traditional or universal, it’s seen as a detriment, when in reality, we just have to learn how to adapt ourselves to those who see life through a different lens.

If we are able to adapt to those who have undergone varying life experiences, we’ll be more able to see their own unique skillsets and can begin to refine the way we teach and evaluate these individuals for the better.